A Short History of Bike Commuting

Since the 1890s, known as the heyday of bicycling in the United States, people have bicycled to work. The practice of separating land uses into distinct areas (i.e. all residential in one area, all industrial in another, etcetera) first established in 1926, and the cheap cost of land at the urban fringe, however, led to the creation of sprawling residential "suburbs", which necessitate the use of an automobile in daily life. From the 1920s to the present day, bicycle commuting levels have declined significantly as a result of this pattern of growth.

Bicycle Commuting, however, has seen a resurgence in recent times due to a number of factors, such as concern for the environment, an interest in fitness, frugality, and convenience. Bicycle commuting levels to work have doubled between 2001 and 2009 according to National Household Travel Survey data, while walking to work has increased only slightly.

Transportation mode to work last week Number of Persons
2001 2009
Sample Size Percent Sample Size Percent
Bicycle 353 0.2 656 0.4
Walk 1,968 1.2 2,282 1.3
All 160,758 100 308,901 100

According to the American Community Survey, 0.55 percent of people used bicycles as their primary mode of transportation to work in 2009 (United States Census Bureau 2010). Data compiled by the League of American Bicyclists suggests that this bicycle mode split has increased by nearly 45% across the country since the 2000 Census (League of American Bicyclists 2010). In addition, many people use both the bicycle and public transit to get to work, so this number is most likely undercounting bicyclists slightly. Naturally, this is only the national average and some places have much higher bicycle mode shares. Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis,Minnesota, and Seattle, Washington all have mode shares above 2% and the trends indicate that, as bicycle infrastructure and advocacy efforts have grown in these cities, so has the bicycle mode share (League of American Bicyclists 2010).

With more people thinking about the pollution and environmental degradation resulting from automobile transportations as well as a national push to reverse the obesity trend in the United States, bicycle commuting is becoming more popular.

If you are new to bicycle commuting or bicycling in general, the "Who Can Help Me Plan a Ride?" section of this Web site can provide some helpful resources.


  1. Federal Highway Administration.(2009). Transportation Mode to Work Last Week [Data File].
    Retrieved from http://nhts.ornl.gov/tables09/ae/TableDesigner.aspx.
  2. Federal Highway Administration.(2001). Transportation Mode to Work Last Week [Data File].
    Retrieved from http://nhts.ornl.gov/tables09/ae/TableDesigner.aspx.
  3. League of American Bicyclists.(2010). Bicycle Commuting Trends, 2000–2008.
    Retrieved October 12, 2010 from http://www.bikeleague.org/blog/2009/10/bicycle-commuting-trends-2000-to-2008/.
  4. United States Census Bureau.(2010). 2009 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates: Means of Transportation to Work.
    Retrieved October 12, 2010 from http://www.census.gov/acs/www/.